Shooting Blind – Part II

Deer3

(If you haven’t read Part I, please scroll down and read it first.)

Erik describes his vision as looking through the slit of a fence. The closer something is to the fence, the fewer parts are visible. Further away, a greater number of parts can be seen. For example, if a truck is parked right next to a fence, a person can see the door keyhole. Park the truck across the street, and a person will see nearly the entire vehicle.

A couple of years after his accident, Erik attended a school for the blind to learn how to navigate his visually-impaired world. His roommate Jeff was also partially sighted and, like Erik, an adventurer. They discovered a grassy hill behind the fenced off grounds of the school perfect for “sledding.” They stole a couple of large cardboard boxes from the garbage to use as sleds and began sneaking out of the school on a regular basis. They had so much fun on these outings they wanted to share them with classmates who were completely blind.

One late afternoon, Erik and Jeff escorted eight of their classmates over the three-foot fence. 

“Jeff put a person on the ‘sled’ at the top of the hill and gave them a push. I caught them at the bottom. Everyone laughed and hollered.”

Once it began to get dark, Erik became concerned about getting caught by school officials who would expect the students to be in their rooms.

“Jeff hopped the fence to the school grounds and helped the kids over one at a time. I stayed at the back of the line to make sure everyone got over. After the last guy was safely on the school grounds, I tried to hustle to the other side so I could help Jeff get the group into the building. I didn’t realize I was parallel to a loading dock area with a 30-foot drop to the ground. I took a hard fall and broke my leg.”

Three days later, he was asked to leave school.

“If I had to get kicked out for having the most fun any of us ever had, it was worth it.”

TeenagerHe returned to Fort Bragg to teach himself how to rebuild his life in familiar surroundings. He was welcomed by friends and family who supported his desire to resume his active outdoor life.

His softball team convinced the pitchers on opposing teams to make sure Erik could locate the ball before it was pitched. He became the team’s star hitter. Running to first base was another matter. He once ran toward the pitcher’s mound. The pitcher, thinking he was charging the mound, threw down his glove, ready for a fight. The solution was to paint a big orange “3” (in homage to Dale Earnhardt) on a sign and hold it above first base. Once safely at first base, his team sent in a pinch runner.

FriendsHis hunting and fishing buddies serve as his guides in the field. Erik refuses to let anyone physically guide him over rugged terrain. His friends warn him about potentially hazardous branches and rocks.

“It doesn’t stop me from taking some nasty falls. My shins and knees are constantly bruised and scraped.”

FriendHe is grateful his friends make it possible for him to continue to hunt. “I can get a buck in my sights and shoot, but once it runs off, I can’t see where it went. My buddies help me track it or spot another shot.”

Erik lowers his head and chuckles when he begins to relay one youthful hunting adventure. “About 10 years after my accident I went deer hunting a few miles northeast of here. My buddy and I were heading home about ten at night when we came across a bear standing in the middle of the road. My buddy pulled the truck over, we got out and ran after the bear. Don’t ask me why, but at the time, it seemed like a fun thing to do.

“It was dark and I couldn’t see a darned thing. I just followed the sound of my buddy and the bear. We got to an old railroad boxcar bridge and I could hear the bear’s claws running across the metal. The bridge turned, but I kept running straight and flew over the side 25 feet down to the dry creek bottom. It knocked me straight out.”

His friend revived him and took him home where his wife insisted he go to the hospital for a CAT scan. The scan showed no brain trauma. When compared to the scans of his original brain injury, the blood clot that is the source of his blindness had shrunk by a third.

“It gives me hope that someday it will totally shrink and I’ll get all my eyesight back.”

***

FamilyErik’s wife, Bobbi, is a former high school classmate. They have two boys, Cody (twelve) and Emmett (eight). Erik would like to get off disability and have a job.

“I’ve applied for things like city maintenance worker and tree trimmer, but nobody wants to take on the liability of having a blind employee doing physical labor. I guess I could enter a program to get trained for something else, but it would kill me to be locked up in an office eight hours a day.”

GrandpaIn the meantime, Erik is a stay-at-home dad who teaches his sons in the tradition of his father and grandfather.

Winter is the time for steelhead fishing and setting crab pots. Spring and summer bring herring fishing and abalone picking. Fall is deer hunting. Despite his blindness, Erik’s ability to carry on this family legacy is as important to him as the recreation it provides.Fish2

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Shooting Blind – Part I

There’s a large segment of Mendocino Coast residents who have roots that go back several generations to a time when harvesting game from the countryside and fish from the sea was necessary for survival. Even today, the ability to hunt and fish goes beyond recreation—it continues to be an economic necessity for many families. These practices are also part of a deep tradition that honors family legacies as they are carried forward to future generations.

***

KidOne of my favorite home-grown local boys is 42-year old Erik Filosi who grew up with a sportsman father and grandfather. He once told me, “I can’t remember the first time I went hunting or fishing. I’ve been doing these things all of my life. I do remember catching my first limit of steelhead when I was 10 years old.”

Erik has many hunting and fishing stories. Recently, he told me about one of his more frustrating deer hunting adventures.

On an early Sunday afternoon in mid-September Erik and his friend Justin decided to end their weekend trip. The buck Justin had shot earlier in the day was in the bed of the pickup. Hunting buddies since they were kids, Justin was reluctant to leave until Erik bagged a deer. As Justin drove the winding mountain road, he scanned the sparse woods and spotted a buck and doe standing along the tree line about 400 yards from the road. He pulled over, stopped the truck, and grabbed his binoculars to spot the buck.

Erik got out of the truck and stood behind the open door. With his rifle in his left hand, he put the barrel through the open window, resting it on his right hand. The buck stood broadside with the doe in front. He waited for the doe to move, aimed at the buck’s head and took his shot. As the bullet whizzed past, the buck looked around. The doe began to walk away. Erik fired another shot and hit the buck behind the ribcage. Both deer vanished into the bush.

After three hours of tracking, the light began to fade and Erik worried they would not be able to find the buck. They lost the blood trail a couple of times, but managed to pick it up again. The trail ended at a 40-foot ravine where they found the dead buck. Erik crawled down, hoisted it over his shoulders, and hauled it back to the truck.

Deer“He was pretty small, but legal. He looked like my fox terrier with antlers.” Erik laughs. “But I’m glad I got my deer.”

There is a sparkle in Erik’s eyes as he tells the story, a glow that belies the fact that he is legally blind.

Growing up, Erik cultivated many friends who shared his passion for the outdoors. They also shared a passion for drinking beer and having fun. Teenager2One rainy winter night when he was 19 years old, he and a group of friends drove to McKerricker State Park, an oceanfront preserve about five miles north of town. They came upon a parked truck where they discovered the girlfriend of one member of the group with another guy. The driver of the truck sped out of the parking lot.

The Bronco driven by Erik’s friend followed the truck at speeds of 70-80 miles per hour along the narrow roadway leading out of the park and across Highway One. Neither vehicle slowed at the stop sign. The truck made it through the intersection.

The Bronco was hit broadside by a car heading north along the highway. Everyone was thrown from the SUV. It rolled three times before coming to rest on top of Erik.

He remembers nothing of the accident, but was told later that after the Bronco was lifted off of him, he had only a cut on his right hand and another on the back of his head. One friend had a minor back injury, another broke a shoulder, and one suffered a head injury. The driver of the car was unharmed.

Erik’s mother says when she got to the hospital that night, he appeared fine. He was talking and his only complaint was of a backache. Within a few hours, doctors discovered he had punctured a lung. Days later, they found a broken jaw.

Erik remembers waking up in the hospital and finding everything jet black. He heard his grandpa talking and asked him to turn on the lights. He heard his grandpa start to cry. Erik’s mom took Erik’s hand and told him that a blood clot had choked off the vision center in his brain. He was blind.

He squeezed her hand and said, “All right, let’s do it.” He was willing to do whatever he needed to resume a normal life.

Erik spent a month in the hospital. While there, he began to regain bits of his sight.

“Lying on my back, I saw little holes, tiny dots. I moved my eyes around and realized it was the ceiling.”

He reported this to his neurologist with excitement. The doctor said he imagined blinking lights and accused Erik of not accepting his blindness.

“This made me really mad. My Uncle Curt sat across the room and I said to him, ‘You’re wearing a hat that says Point Arena Rod and Gun Club.’ I swear that doctor’s jaw hit the floor.”

The desire to prove people wrong would serve Erik well in the years to come.Fish3